As a graduation gift from my dear Alma Mater Ridgeview Classical Schools, I received a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ The Meditations. Upon rereading it over this last winter break, the following passage from the beginning of Book V struck me:
“When, in the early morning, you are reluctant to get up, have this thought in mind: ‘I rise to do a man’s work. Am I still resentful as I go to do the task for which I was born and for the sake of which I was brought into the world? Was I made to warm myself under the blankets?”*
First, the passage felt like a rebuke for one of the greatest pleasures of being on vacation: sleeping in. Indeed, a brief look at eschatology tells us that although man’s end is death, his purpose itself is not rest. Indeed, rest is required to be productive, but it is not productive in itself. Rest should not be an end in itself, but should prepare us for some greater work.
Thus, what is the particular work of man, his telos, his purpose? Is it, as Moby Dick’s Ahab believes, to chase whales? Is it, as the Tale of Two Cities’ Sydney Carton or Crime and Punishment’s Sonya proposes, to sacrifice ourselves for friends and family? Is it to achieve greatness and immortality like Machiavelli or The Illiad‘s Achilles? Is it to serve our country, like Aeneas in The Aeneid? Is man’s purpose to defy immortality like Frankenstein’s creature? Is it to serve God?
Consequentially, how does man’s purpose translate into his work? This is the topic of the senior thesis, and it is a question each man must answer for himself.
Ridgeview, I propose, aids in preparing students to find and fulfill their purposes. For those of us who believe our telos is working at Ridgeview, this means not merely teaching students. We must develop individuals who can both ask AND answer such questions for themselves. That is the work for which we rise even when days seem tedious. That is the telos of Ridgeview, the purpose of a liberal-arts backed education, and the work of the free man.
*Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations, trans. G M A. Grube (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983), 37.